Cardinals’ season is following similar path of UK’s ’07 campaign

By Matthew George

The similarities that can be drawn comparing this year’s Louisville baseball team to UK’s 2007 club are striking.

The previous Cardinal team notched a school-record 47 wins, climbed as high as No. 6 in the national rankings and advanced to the 2007 College World Series in Omaha, Neb.

The 2006 Cats won a school-record 44 games, climbed as high as No. 4 in the polls and hosted the program’s first NCAA regional.

At the end of last season, U of L lost a number of key veterans. Shortstop Boomer Whiting, hard-hitting Isaiah Howes and slugger Logan Johnson highlight a nucleus of 10 seniors who graduated after the Omaha run.

After its record-breaking 2006 season, UK bid farewell to centerpieces in first baseman Ryan Strieby, second baseman John Shelby and third baseman Michael Bertram.

Picked to finish second in the conference in the 2008 preseason coaches poll, the Cards have sputtered to a 16-12 mark (4-5 Big East Conference) and are currently sixth in the conference.

Picked to finish fourth in the Eastern Division by the coaches in 2007, the Cats won just 13 league games and failed to make the Southeastern Conference Tournament.

With so much in common, today’s contest against U of L, who beat the Cats 8-1 in Louisville last season, is reminiscent of a matchup between this year’s No. 9 Cats (25-5, 7-5 SEC) and the UK team from a season ago, UK head coach John Cohen said.

The Cards make the trip to Lexington after a rough week. U of L dropped two of three to St. Johns over the weekend, and lost 10-5 at Western Kentucky last Tuesday.

“They’ve had kind of a tough week,” Cohen said, “but then again, when Kentucky’s playing Louisville, that stuff really all goes out the window. It’s a lot of fun for the kids to play this one.”

But Cohen said when it comes to baseball, where non-conference foes meet in the middle of the week, the rivalry game does not carry the same weight as a Cats-Cards matchup might in basketball or football.

“The nature of it is so different,” Cohen said. “As an example, none of our three best starters will pitch against them. And that’s what’s different from football and basketball. You’re going to get the very best players all the time in football and basketball. That doesn’t necessarily happen in baseball.”

Cohen said that winning or losing is more vital to a team during a weekend series than during a midweek game, especially from an RPI standpoint because UK’s SEC opponents are all so highly ranked. But he said the U of L game is still important to him and the team.

“You want to win every time you go out there, and you want to compete as hard as you can, and our kids will and they’ll have fun doing it,” he said. “Hopefully we can get some folks to come out and watch, and it will be a good game.”

Cowgill named National Player of the Week

This week was a big one for center fielder Collin Cowgill, both statistically and emotionally. The junior hit four home runs, batting .696 in four games while driving in seven runs and scoring nine times en route to being named National Player of the Week by the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper.

“I’m really proud of him,” Cohen said. “He’s just had a great week. He’s a young man who can be really hard on himself, and he’s just found a rhythm.”

In 20 plate appearances, Cowgill reached base safely 16 times. Two of Cowgill’s four home runs came against Western Kentucky on Wednesday to help notch Cohen’s 300th career win.

“When that’s happening for Collin, you know he’s seeing it well,” Cohen said. “He’s making good decisions, and yeah, he’s in a groove right now, he’s playing well.”

On the season, Cowgill is batting .407, with 10 doubles, two triples, 12 home runs, 38 RBIs, 24 walks and 14 steals. He is the second player to be tabbed National Player of the Week. Senior right fielder Sawyer Carroll received the honor earlier this year after homering in four consecutive games.